Pride and (craft beer) Prejudices

The same thing happens to me several times every year come spring and summer.  I’ll sidle into an establishment with a limited craft beer selection and have to make A Hard Choice.  Sure, most places have at least a Sam Adams tap nowadays, and usually that’s the old standby in such situations.

Well, as long as it’s Boston Lager.

Sometimes, though, the establishment in question only carries the seasonal Sam offerings.  And therein lies the problem, at least for me.

I just don’t like Sam Adams Summer Ale.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t like it.  No, no, no.  I very much hope you enjoy it.  But to my palate, there’s something about he concoction of lemons, wheat, and grains of paradise that leaves my tongue and throat feeling like they’re coated in hair, and soury-tasting hairs at that.

I know, sounds tasty, right?

So, what do I do when I find myself in a Summer Ale situation and no other craft offerings are available?  Do I swallow (my rather prodigious) craft beer-drinker pride?  No, I look around around for a familiar 3-sided white handle emblazoned in blue.

Yes, I look for Blue Moon.  There, I said it.

I always feel a little guilty about it, too.  You know, because Blue Moon is a Coors…err, well, MillerCoors subsidiary.  And I think that means that as a craft beer-lover, I’m not supposed to like Blue Moon.  You, know because it’s from The Man.  And because it’s from The Man, it’s not considered real craft beer, I guess.

But here’s the thing: it seems like craft to me.  For all the research I’ve been able to do on Blue Moon (again, I’m pretty lazy and not really a journalist of any stripe, so my “research” boils down to an 5-minute session of Googling), it seems to me that the company—the Blue Moon Brewing Company, that is, not the Mega-Industrial-Global-Brew-Corp parent company—puts their attention on brewing before marketing.  They seem to use quality ingredients rather than corner-cutting with cheap adjuncts, and the truth is, I believe I can taste that in the final product.

Well, as long as the bartender doesn’t mess things up with an unnecessary orange slice.  But I’ve already beaten that horse pretty solidly.

Either way, people are fond of saying that Blue Moon isn’t a real craft beer.  And I suppose if we’re determined to define “craft” based on an arbitrary measure like the number of barrels produced annually, it probably doesn’t qualify.  But I’ve decided I’m sticking to my own definition here; defining something as “craft” based on volume is kind of dumb.

Don’t believe me?  Look, I can make a half dozen grey, lifeless ceramic ashtrays from a few blocks of kindergarten clay using an old shirt as apron, but that certainly doesn’t mean I crafted anything.

To me, craft beer is one brewed with a focus on the end result, using quality ingredients and (mostly) traditional processes.

In other words, I’m not going to let myself be prejudiced anymore about any beer.  For months now I’ve been casting a weary eye at every Goose Island 6-pack I see, certain that those bottles held a travesty of corporate-megabrewing swill intended to pilfer some unsuspecting former Goose aficionado out of his or her $9.  But you know, what?  Every Goose I’ve had since A…B…, A…B…, um, that big conglomerate bought the company has been as tasty as the years before.

Now, obviously, there are always going to be questions of the marketing leverage of giant corporations that by and large controls distributors.  I get that.  The fight for shelf space will rage for as long as the three-tier system plague us.  But that’s a different post altogether.

For now, when it comes to individual brews, I’m going to let my palette make the decisions about what I like and don’t like, not my preconceptions.

And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.


15 Replies to “Pride and (craft beer) Prejudices”

  1. I’m not a huge fan of Sam Adams Summer either. Or Blue Moon. Or any wheat beer really. One thing I’ve noticed about the big corporations is the craft brand they push really hard is their wheat beer brand (Blue Moon for MillerCoors and Shock Top for AB). I’d like to see them try to make and advertise a solid IPA or barleywine.

  2. Could be worse. There are a few dive bars in this town who think “Shock Top” counts as a craft beer!

  3. I will say that if Shock Top is the only alternative to the basic American Lagers, I’ll usually see how well they handle unsweet iced tea 🙂

  4. I can’t be objective when it comes to “The Man”. The megabreweries ran a lot of small regional breweries out of business after Prohibition, and to this day engage in bullying tactics including, but not limited to, having their servants in state legislatures try to pass laws that attempt to do away with or restrict small craft brewers. Besides, my old go to when craft beer wasn’t available (Rolliing Rock) was messed up by A-B. So if no craft beer or brews from an old regional brewery (Stevens Point, Straub, etc.) aren’t available, I’ll have some wine or a nonalcoholic beverage, thank you.

  5. This was a great read! Thank you for that.

    I know Miller/Coors is the big Evil machine, however if you are a craft Beer fan, and still cant appreciate the Sours Coors braught to the Sour Fest just because of the name on the bottle? Then you are not really a Craft Beer fan, you are just a Beer Snob that really has no idea what you are talking about.

  6. Not that you’ll be surprised, but I have to disagree with you on this one. I’ll avoid postulating on the methods of production since I’m not prepared to provide concrete evidence of a more hand-crafted process, or lack thereof, to “mockro-beer” as compared to its commoditized brethren. Instead, I’ll focus on the culture and ethics of what is means to be craft beer, something that is as important as the production process itself.

    I’ll admit that even the collaborative nature of the overwhelming majority of craft brewers can be competitive at times. Craft brewers have gotten in some pretty public pissing matches in the past, and at the end of the day, yes… everyone is fighting for shelf space. However, the overwhelming majority (if not the entirety) of the craft beer segment not only appreciates, but is fueled by diversity, creativity, and originality. This is why the collaborative nature of craft brewing works so well and its something engrained in the spirit of a true artisan.

    This is where the very distinct line is drawn between craft and commodity brewers. The “beer barron-ism”, win and grow at all costs, revenue and profit over all, nature of commodity brewers is the mess that got us into prohibition and the low point of American beer of the 1970’s when there were less than 100 breweries in the US, down from over 2000 pre-prohibition. It was from this low point that Jack McAuliffe, Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, and other pioneers said that enough is enough. They knew that beer is so much more than a commodity to be a means to an end for a multi-national corporation, that beer is not just another widget. Beer is more than a marketing play for some self-starting brand manager who wants to pay a contract brewer to brew Peter’s Proper Pale Ale. It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy, and it’s not over, but these authentic pioneers began to change the paradigm of what it means to be American beer.

    I know there are extremely talented, passionate, creative individual brewers who work for these commodity corporations, one of my mentors came from one. However, you lead by example, and leadership starts at the top. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but if I were a betting man, I’d place a pretty handsome bet on the reality that the overwhelming majority of shareholders and directors of the BMCs of the World could not care less about how the beer tastes, what kind of beer it is, or how its brewed. They care about return on investment. They couldn’t care less if there were only 5 or 10 breweries in the World that brewed essentially the same fizzy yellow beer. In fact, as long as they are one of those 5 or 10, that is probably defined as success. These corporations aren’t brewing Blue Moon because the directors are fed up with drinking fizzy yellow beer. They are brewing Blue Moon because they got nervous when they saw a new player like Sierra Nevada taking their shelf space at Krogers and handles at the corner pub.

    As I said, craft brewing pioneers have started to change the paradigm of beer in America. But it is not over, it’s just getting started. BMCs will do whatever it takes to protect their house… but when the battle is over, if they win, they will return to their easier, more profitable ways. When you choose a Blue Moon, you choose a side. Maybe just for one battle, but it’s the individual battles that decide the war.

    Beer doesn’t taste good just because it fits into the BA’s definition of craft beer, agreed there. But if I’m faced with the choice of a craft beer I don’t like or a “mockro-beer”, maybe I’ll sacrifice that dinner for a rehydration session, or maybe I’ll go to whiskey. After all, you’ve gotta make beer before you can make whiskey. But I won’t choose the “mockro-beer”, I’ll choose to live so I can fight another day.


  7. In my experience, there aren’t very many, if any, poorly-crafted beers that taste good. If a beer tastes good, I don’t care too much who makes it.

    Yes, Goose Island was bought, but they also make some of the best barrel aged beers (both sours and stouts) of any brewery that exists currently. As long as they keep making these beers (and they keep tasting good), I’ll keep buying them, regardless of their ownership structure.

    With all that in mind, I think everything Blue Moon tastes terrible, so I don’t have any conflict there.

  8. I have seen Landshark (the Jimmy Buffett one) advertised as “foreign” at a bar where “domestic” actually just means Miller/Coors/Bud

  9. Craft or not, I’m of the precise opposite opinion. I think SA Summer is pretty tasty, and Blue Moon just isn’t very good – Who brews them completely notwithstanding.

  10. I will completely agree with you about Sam’s summer ale: I just don’t like it. Still can’t do the Blue Moon, though, as much as I have liked it in the past. Too much pressure still put on local guys by the big guys via government regulations. It’s changing, like seeing Kasich at Mt Carmel the other day, but still too much collusion and pressure from the Tasteless Ones for my liking. Plus those Miller ba##ards ruined Harp, which used to be a very nice session beer and is now so sharp as to be undrinkable. So, no Blue Moon for me. If there’s no decent beer around me without ‘taint’, I’ll go with a Scotch instead, single malt if they have it, or Johnny Walker Black (or Red), if not!

  11. My heart goes to Jay on this one, but my actions expose the depths of my convictions. I was just lecturing (as I am wont to do) one of my employees on the three-tier system, and the plot of Beer Wars the Tuesday. I want to only drink craft beer, I really do. I always choose a craft when possible, even maybe one I don’t care for as much for the sake of supporting them, but there are times when Inbev gets my money too. The fact of the matter is that I like European pilsners like Stella. Blue Moon is one of the only Belgians I like as well. If that means I have to give the big guys some of my money sometimes, then so be it. I also come from a family of BL drinkers. To give them credit, they have almost unanimously switched to some form on Yuengling, but the process has been a concentrated crusade between myself and my cousins. And considering their distribution, they have outstrapped the craft beer moniker by many folk’s definition. I guess it boils down to one’s commitment to the “craft beer crusade” as they see it. Me, I do what I can, while keeping the suds flowing. Others will choose not to drink. Something to remember is that just as we Hoperatives try to open other’s minds and expand their palates, the door swings both ways. In the end, a beer is not just a beverage, but a symbol. It functions differently in varied situations, but it is something that brings folks together and binds us together in a community. It will always serve that function regardless of which beer it is. In fact, keeping an open mind allows for a bigger community.

  12. I like Sam’s summer a bit more than Blue moon, but I’m not really crazy about wheat beers to begin with. Also between these 2 examples if I start to get nit picky about what is/isn’t craft then Sam’s runs a fine line. Sure most people think it’s craft but it’s still the biggest craft brewery with production/revenue that out paces the majority of craft brewers combined, and massively available across the country. I also have to wonder how much time they spend focusing on the end product of things like Sam Adam’s Light.

    But this raises an interesting question of what is/isn’t craft. Since this is a Cinci blog with mostly Cincinnatians I would like to pose a secondary question.

    What is/isn’t local?

    Rivertown is brewed in Lockland
    Mt. Carmel in Mt. Carmel
    Moerlein in… Pennsylvania? Sure, they have a few special batches in OTR and a few at the lager house. But more Sam Adams is brewed here then Moerlein.

  13. I’d consider Mt. Carmel and Rivertown local, but until Moerlein gets production up and running in Cincinnati, I certainly wouldn’t consider them local.

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